19th June 2022
Grouse shooting is set to be banned on the historic moors that inspired the writings of the Brontë sisters, as part of what critics called a “manufactured and damaging” campaign against a long-standing countryside tradition.
Yorkshire Water, which owns large tracts of land on Thornton Moor, is reviewing its practice of allowing grouse and partridge shooting on moorland next to Ogden Water Nature Reserve.
The move comes after months of lobbying by environmental activists, who say the moors should be returned to the wild to encourage biodiversity.
Wild Moors, formed in 2014 to campaign against intensive management of moorland for grouse shooting, said valuable peat on the moor – which captures harmful carbon – is burnt by gamekeepers to encourage the growth of young heather for the birds to feed on. It said that non-native partridges reared on farms compete with wild birds for resources.
Luke Steele, an animal rights activist who runs Wild Moors and was convicted in 2009 as part of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, said: “Yorkshire Water has a clear opportunity to pull the plug on game bird shooting on Thornton Moor and instead restore this locally treasured land for nature, the climate and people. It must take it.
“The world is fast moving in a direction where restoring land for nature, carbon capture and people is at the forefront of solving climate change and biodiversity loss. Today, no cutting-edge landowner would dream of allowing grouse shooting.”
But countryside campaigners said the move is a misguided attack on a traditional local activity.
They pointed out that shooting is estimated to bring £2.5 billion to the rural economy and support tens of thousands of jobs. They said that, in the aftermath of Covid, shooting is an important part of isolated local communities.
Landowners say their keepers do not burn peat, only old surface heather to encourage fresh growth.
If the ban is pushed through, it would bring an end to a longstanding tradition of grouse shooting on the moors around the village of Thornton, where Emily Brontë and her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, lived and wrote their novels.
There are references to the local shooting of birds throughout the sisters’ novels, including Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, in which Heathcliffe sends a recuperating Lockwood “a brace of grouse – the last of the season”.
The Countryside Alliance argued that Yorkshire Water should continue to permit shooting, on the grounds it is both vital economically and for conservation.
Shooting ‘vital for the rural community’
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “It is surprising that Yorkshire Water are even considering possible alternative land uses to grouse shooting on its upland landholdings, and it is hoped that they will not be inadvertently influenced by a manufactured social media campaign organised by a convicted animal rights extremist, rather than working with the local moorland community who have maintained the area for generations.
“Shooting is vital for the local economy and the rural community. There is no other land use that provides similar environmental, social and economic benefits and any move to stop it will damage both the conservation of the moorland and the viability of the local community at an already challenging time.”
The alliance added that, if left unmanaged, heather becomes a severe fire risk, threatening wildlife and habitats and leading to the release of carbon dioxide.
Grouse shooting has already come to an end on nearby Ilkley Moor, as part of a Bradford Council initiative to restore peatlands.
A spokesman for Yorkshire Water said: “We announced in 2019 that we would review shooting leases as they come up for renewal using our six capitals model to ensure that activities on our land are providing the best outcomes for society and the environment.
“Many of our leases are long-term and we are working to finalise our complex assessment tool to ensure decisions we make about our land are robust and well-evidenced.”